TI Chip Blamed for Flaw in V-22 Osprey

Feb. 10--Manufacturers and military officials are blaming a computer chip from Texas Instruments Inc. for yet another setback with a revolutionary aircraft that takes off like a helicopter but flies like a plane.

Engineers from Boeing Co. and Textron Inc.'s Bell Helicopter unit noticed during some diagnostic work at an Amarillo factory that the flight control computers in the V-22 Osprey malfunctioned at temperatures below 30 degrees.

The two companies, which are working together as prime contractors on the Osprey program, immediately warned the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Air Force to ground their 55 Ospreys pending chip replacement, which should take a week or two.

"The specs say that all Osprey systems should work down to 65 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, so it was definitely a problem that the flight control computers started acting strange when the temperature was just below freezing," said Bob Leder, a spokesman for the Bell-Boeing Program Office.

"We called BAE [Systems Inc.], the company that makes the flight control computers, and they traced the problem back to this one chip, which is apparently an off-the-shelf product and not something that Texas Instruments specifically designed for this project."

News that a malfunction from one of their chips had grounded a high-profile aircraft came as a shock to TI officials, who hunted in vain for specifics Friday.

"We are nowhere near ready to say that any of our chips did anything they shouldn't," said Gary Silcott, a spokesman for the Dallas-based company. "We don't even know that our chips had anything to do with this."

BAE officials could not be reached for comment Friday, but Mr. Leder and Mr. Silcott both expressed doubt that the chips in question form a big part of the Osprey or a big part of TI's business. Investors certainly seemed unperturbed. Shares of Texas Instruments stock fell 16 cents to close at $30.92 Friday afternoon.

The Marine Corps, which hopes to deploy Ospreys in Iraq this year, believes that the tilt-rotor aircraft represents a monumental improvement from the older helicopters it will replace. Ospreys are far harder to shoot down than regular helicopters because they fly higher and faster.

Unfortunately, the Osprey design has suffered severe setbacks since it was first imagined in the early 1980s.

Still, said Mr. Leder, current military plans call for 400 Ospreys over the next few years.

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